July 16, 2004

Israeli Interrogators in Iraq?

There have been some reports along these lines, here and there, appearing over the past few months.

Here's the most recent mention I've seen over at Jane's:

The USA needed help conducting mass interrogations of Arabic-speaking detainees. Foreign Report can now reveal that, to make up for this shortfall, the USA employed Israeli security service (Shin Bet) experts to help their US counterparts 'break' their captives.

The USA could have approached other friendly regimes in the Middle East, such as Egypt or Jordan, which have vast experience interrogating Muslim fundamentalists. The Israelis may be brilliant linguists, but they cannot match Arabs speaking their own language. But there is a significant difference between the Egyptian and Jordanian interrogation techniques and those of the Israelis. For the Egyptian and Jordanian secret services, physical torture is an essential part of interrogation and a key element in breaking the prisoner's will and making them co-operative.

In the past, Shin Bet would use torture when it interrogated prisoners. But 20 years ago, an Israeli government committee investigated the security service's practices and the use of torture was subsequently banned, forcing Shin Bet to adopt a variety of techniques that did not cause physical damage. These new methods are much more palatable to US sensibilities. They also brought faster and more convincing results.

Foreign Report has learnt that top Shin Bet interrogation experts were sent to Iraq to help with the most difficult interrogations, such as the captured heads of the Iraqi intelligence - and perhaps with former president Saddam Hussein. US sources say that in spite of the incidences of abuse in Abu Ghraib prison, such events are not representative of the sophisticated methods that Shin Bet used in Iraq.

Now I really don't have a clue how credible this report is.

As far as I know, it could be flat out false from top to bottom.

But let's assume it's true--at least to the extent some Israelis schlepped over to Iraq to assist in the interrogation of high-value detainees.

Let's further assume that the Israeli interrogation tactics are all on the up and up--as opposed to the tortures (sorry, abuses...) that took place at Abu Ghraib.

Also, for the sake of argument, let's say too that Shin Bet interrogations, on several occasions, helped lead to obtaining some highly valuable intel that materially assisted the counterinsurgency effort.

Assuming all this (and yeah, there are a lot of assumptions here), I'd still ask--would the benefit of any prospective Israeli assistance in such interrogations be outweighed by the public relations knock-on effects such a move would have in the Arab world?

Yes, vastly?

No, not at all?

Yes, a bit?

A wash?

Not the right questions being asked?

I'm open to hearing all sides on this issue--though I lean towards, all told, thinking it's a pretty dumb move (if indeed the reports are true).

Particularly as (any interrogation experts out there please chime in if I'm being breathtakingly clueless) couldn't we simply have the Egyptians and Jordanians assist mostly in terms of translation duties--while ensuring they didn't resort to their typical M.O. (at least at detention facilities that hadn't gone FUBAR like Abu Ghraib)?

Speaking of Abu Ghraib, the investigatory process is inching along at a snail's pace.

All told, I'm probably in agreement with Lindsey Graham:

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he agreed with Mr. Warner on putting off more hearings, but said investigators must search for culpability among higher-ranking officers and officials. "The idea that only five or six privates and sergeants are legally exposed is unacceptable," Mr. Graham said in a telephone interview.

Damn straight.

Especially given this:

At the briefing on Thursday, the Pentagon also provided senators with updated figures on investigations of the death or abuse of Iraqi prisoners. The military has opened 41 death investigations; 15 are still pending. Of the 135 inquiries into other abuses, 54 are still pending.

That's a lot of deaths, folks.

It's, er, deeply un-American; as the saying goes.

Which makes this deeply galling:

Interest in the issue among senators may be waning. About 10 senators from both parties attended the briefing held on Thursday to update lawmakers on the status of the seven pending inquiries and on the Red Cross reports.

That's simply disgraceful, in my view.

Still, the NYT report contrasts somewhat sharply with this one from the Washington Times:

More hearings will be held involving high-level officials from the former U.S. administration in Iraq regarding prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib, the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee said yesterday.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, said he hoped to open a hearing as early as next week before the Senate goes on recess with testimony from L. Paul Bremer, the former head of the U.S. occupation in Iraq.

I'm sure our august Senators' attendance % at the hearings will ramp up should Jerry Bremer (as yet not confirmed) be testifying....for one, there will doubtless be more television cameras in the committee chamber...

Posted by Gregory Djerejian at July 16, 2004 10:45 AM
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